By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The director of a documentary that portrays shale gas production as dangerous was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing on Wednesday, touching off a dispute over public access to the hearing.
Capitol Police handcuffed Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, and led him out of a House science committee room after he refused to stop filming.
Republicans in charge of committee said Fox did not have credentials to tape the hearing, which was already being broadcast live on the Internet.
The hearing focused on an Environmental Protection Agency draft report that found an aquifer in Wyoming was likely polluted by fluids from hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that was the subject of Fox's controversial Gasland documentary.
Rep. Brad Miller, the top Democrat on the science subcommittee, objected to the decision to eject Fox. He said Republicans had also blocked an ABC News crew from filming the hearing because they did not request to film in advance.
"All those rules are to control access," said Miller, who made a motion that "all God's children" be allowed to film the hearing.
Miller's motion delayed the hearing for nearly 50 minutes until the required number of lawmakers were present to vote on the motion.
The Gasland documentary has gained notoriety for a scene with flaming tap water. Shale gas supporters have said it was filled with inaccuracies and distorts the safety record of U.S. shale gas production.
Shale gas output has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. While innovations have sharply boosted production of U.S. natural gas, critics say the rapidly expanding development threatens drinking water and public health.
Since the release of Gasland, Fox has become a high-profile opponent of fracking, joining efforts to prevent drilling in the Delaware River Basin and working to get water to families in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who say their water has been tainted by drilling.
When the House hearing resumed, Republicans, who strongly support the natural gas drilling, accused the EPA of basing its findings in Wyoming on politics and not science.
"In its single-minded pursuit of the hydraulic fracturing smoking gun, EPA appears to have lost focus on identifying the real causes and real solutions to drinking water quality problems in Pavillion, Wyoming," said Andy Harris, the top Republican on the subcommittee.
The EPA defended its work in Pavillion. EPA region 8 administrator Jim Martin stressed that its study was conducted under rigorous standards and the findings were limited to the unique geology in Pavillion and not meant to be applied to other places where drilling is occurring.
"EPA has acted carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately, and transparently in our ground water investigation and in sharing the data and findings contained in our draft report," Martin said.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio)